Tag Archive: time loops


Breslin Haunter

Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce

It’s no secret I’m a big fan of ghost stories, and I’ve lamented before how hard they are to find among all the slasher horror gore fest flicks that pass for scary fare these days.  So I’m always excited to stumble across a new one on film.  One such recent discovery is Vincenzo Natali’s quiet Canadian production Haunter, starring Abigail Breslin (Maggie, Ender’s Game, Signs), Peter Outerbridge (Orphan Black, Nikita), Michelle Nolden (RED, Lost Girl, Everwood, Nero Wolfe), and veteran TV fixture Stephen McHattie (Adam-12, Kojak, The Twilight Zone, The X-Files, Quantum Leap, Deep Space Nine, Enterprise, Haven, Watchmen, 300, A History of Violence).

It’s 1984, and Lisa Johnson (Breslin) feels stuck in a rut:  Every day is just like the next.  Just like the next, and she’s the only one in her family of four who’s noticed.  The same Walkie-Talkie wakeup call from little brother Robbie (Peter DaCunha), the same pancake breakfast, the same friendly quarrel with Mom (Nolden) over the same load of laundry.  (“I did the laundry yesterday.  You just don’t remember that I did.”)  Wearily she trudges though clarinet practice, Dad fixing the car in the garage, a conversation about a birthday celebration that never comes, and the same episode of Murder She Wrote.  Until one morning, she’s startled Awake by a creepy noise in the laundry room, and discovers that her house, and her family, are at the heart of a long history of dark secrets.  And another girl—another family—needs Lisa’s help, if she’s ever to escape the time loop.

Haunter-Abigail-Breslin

Many parts of Haunter will feel familiar, maybe even derivative—but that’s OK.  In some parts it feels like a remake of The Others, and there are echoes of The Ring and every knockoff of Groundhog Day you’ve ever seen.  (See one of our early takes on time loops at borg.com here).  But it works, and it works well.  Lisa’s world is tightly focused and claustrophobic, and her navigation of several parallel timestreams is seamless and gripping.  Director Natali, known for his work on projects including Orphan Black, The Returned, Hannibal, and The Strain, has richly layered the film with finely wrought symbolism, from the leitmotifs of Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf” playing throughout, to Lisa’s Souxie and the Banshees concert T, to the dark fairytale iconography Lisa must wade through to learn the truth.

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All You Need is Kill

Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

Live. Die. Repeat.

One of these lines is in the 2004 Japanese military science fiction novel All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka. The other line gives away some of the surprise of what the novel–soon to become a major motion picture–is about.  The movie, renamed the far less interesting title Edge of Tomorrow, stars Tom Cruise as a foot soldier (Kaiji Kiriya in the novel, Lt. Col. Bill Cage in the movie)and Emily Blunt as powerhouse super soldier Rita Vrataski in a future battle with an alien incursion that takes place on Earth not too far from now.  Based on the brief previews we’ve seen, the film appears to be different enough from the novel so that reading the novel will not entirely give away the movie, and it’s full of enough classic sci-fi riffs that you may want to read it first as a separate experience.

Sakuraska’s novel will likely conjure elements from some of the best of classic science fiction.  It’s a great look at day-to-day military encounters, with real world elements from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, Richard Marcinko’s Rogue Warrior, Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, and Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers.  It has its own thought-provoking “warning-sign” messages found in classics like Logan’s Run and THX-1138, that adversity in the face of certain doom as in Pacific Rim, and the “what the heck is going on” feel from any number of Philip K. Dick short stories (“Paycheck” and “We Can Remember it for You Wholesale” come to mind).  It also borrows a lot from the endless onslaught of future military video games—it helps to know the author’s background is in information technology and he’s an avid gamer.

All You Need is Kill Edge of Tomorrow tie-in novel

As the movie’s tagline reveals, the now iconic Groundhog Day time-loop plays a part in the story.  Searching for what role the time-loop plays is the real quest Sakurazaka takes us through.  Each new year seems to bring a new take on that sci-fi device, and the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Cause and Effect” best illustrates the physics “causality loop” if you’re not familiar with it and we discussed several other examples here at borg.com back in 2011.  If you’re stuck repeating the events of a single period of time, can you ever hope to break free from it?  What do you do in the meantime?  The time-loop element is pervasive even in the future world of the novel—Keiji loosely recounts once watching Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore’s time-loop comedy 50 First Dates, which finds Barrymore’s character with amnesia every morning so she must start each day all over again.

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Back in Beginner Computing class in junior high, we learned the BASIC computer language on Commodore VIC 20s.  The first program you learn to write is this:

10 PRINT HELLO

20 GOTO 10

The end result is a loop, printing the word HELLO over and over again infinitely like this:

HELLOHELLOHELLOHELLOHELLOHELLOHELLO

HELLOHELLOHELLOHELLOHELLOHELLOHELLO

HELLOHELLOHELLOHELLOHELLOHELLOHELLO

HELLOHELLOHELLOHELLOHELLOHELLOHELLO …

It’s an easy way to illustrate a temporal loop or time loop, a recurring story element in science fiction and fantasy works.

In 1905 Spanish philosopher George Santayana wrote “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  He didn’t mean this literally.  As science and science fiction would later speculate, repeating the past may be a possibility one day.

It is difficult to determine who first put the literal repeat of history into story form, but it is a recurring science fiction device that is often used to great effect.  Classic sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick used the time loop in his 1975 short story “A Little Something for Us Tempunauts.”  The best and most well known example of this is the Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day, where for for some unknown reason a weatherman’s day is repeated until something happens that is supposed to happen–he gets the day exactly right.

Unlike later uses of this device, in his short story Philip K. Dick did not express the element as a repeat of the actual narrative story, but an explanation of cause and effect.  In his story, time traveling astronauts go on a mission, where destruction of the mission results in a time loop that may or may not result in the preservation of an eternal life for everyone.  We don’t see the result, but hear from the tempunauts they have been there, done that, before.  Over and over.

Usually use of a time loop on sci-fi/fantasy genre tales involves at least one person being able to realize the existence of the repetition.  Bill Murray’s weatherman knows the day is repeating in Groundhog Day.  Yet the other characters are not aware at all.  In other uses, characters get to experience deja vu or even fatigue from living time over and over.

This week’s episode of the Syfy Channel’s Haven, the series based on a Stephen King story, is titled “Audrey Parker’s Day Off,” and is one of the best of the series so far.  The main character Audrey Parker, played by Emily Rose, wakes up to repeat a day after she comes upon a death at a crime scene.  She is in bed with friend Chris, played by Jason Priestley, to whom she must explain a different plan for each new day.  In each new day she tries to figure out how to not cause any death, by changing the variables of each day.  In the context of the mystic “troubles” the town of Haven is dealing with, Audrey as the only person person unaffected by the troubles.  With Audrey the show uses this story device quite well.  The parallels to Groundhog Day are unmistakable, but viewers can’t help but like it when it is adapted in a new way as was done here.

Jason Priestley may be strangely tied to time loops, as he also appeared in a television series entirely about time loops, called Tru Calling, one of borg.com’s favorite series.  In Tru Calling, a graduate student and morgue worker named Tru played by Eliza Dushku is able to relive days in the hope of saving the life of someone who died on that day.  Usually she has several opportunities to do this.  Priestley’s character later in the series comes along as an agent of death to undo the seemingly good that Tru has been doing.  His view is that Tru is interfering with the proper course of events, as if only one timeline is correct, and with him it is the first timeline.

Early Edition was another series focusing on the ability to “do over.”  The loop also occurs in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode “Life Serial,” on the series Eureka in the episode “I Do Over,” the X-Files episode “Monday,” and the Xena, Warrier Princess episode “Been There, Done That.”

In theaters now is the fifth film in the Final Destination franchise.  This series presents a variant on going back to change the past, without the ability to try again via repeats, although with the character of Clear played by Ali Larter in the first two movies, the repeat effort seems to be there all the same.  In the world of the Final Destination films, an individual lives out a horrible accident, then snaps back in sort of a deja vu state, with only seconds to try to prevent the course of events from happening.  However, like Priestley’s character in Tru Calling, an unseen power, like his agent of death, is set about to return the normal and proper timeline, even if it means the death of dozens.

In Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, Vonnegut’s hero Billy Pilgrim similarly becomes what Vonnegut calls “unstuck in time”.  He has no choice, he appears in various stages of his own life, but with the choice of changing events.  This also happens in the episode of Angel called “Time Bomb.”

Captain Picard  (Patrick Stewart) experienced the same problem a few times in Star Trek: The Next Generation.  In  the episode “Tapestry,” John de Lancie’s omnipotent character Q plunges Picard into the past to allow Picard to not only revisit his past, but to change it if he wishes.  With no regrets, Picard changes nothing, even when that means a Nausicaan will again put a pool cue through his heart, resulting in Picard again needing an artificial heart for the rest of his life.  But whereas revisiting the past in story form has been around for centuries–think Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol–a temporal loop requires repeated visits to the past.  Luckily Scrooge gets it right after merely watching his past, and Q is just fine with Picard’s choices the second time around.

Actually the best Star Trek representation of the temporal loop is the Next Generation episode “Cause and Effect,” which might as well be an essay on how time loops work.  The episode starts with a poker game between the bridge officers.  The ship then experiences a temporal distortion and a ship comes out of nowhere to collide with the USS Enterprise, resulting in the destruction of both ships.  Then we have a commercial break, and the show appears to repeat again.  I know of at least one person who almost turned off the show, thinking there was something wrong with the network feed.  Brilliantly, the audience must be confused.  What did we miss?  In this story, characters are impacted by the repetition, they feel tired, and they experience deja vu.  Luckily Lt. Commander Data figures out how to leave a subtle clue for the next repeat, allowing him to save the ship before the end of the hour of the episode.  His crew had been repeating the event for mere days, but the other ship caught in the anomaly, the USS Bozeman helmed by a captain played by Kelsey Grammer, has unknowingly re-lived the same day for decades, and the show ends with Picard informing the other captain of some pretty bad news about his lost time.  Breaking a time loop is also the focus of the Charmed episode “The Good, The Bad, and The Cursed.”

Writers use time loops again and again because they are fun, and modern audiences understand them, mostly because of the success of Groundhog Day.  In fact in this week’s episode of Haven, “Audrey Parker’s Day Off,” when Audrey explains all this to Interim Chief of Police Nathan Wournos, his response is “you’re stuck in my second favorite Bill Murray movie.”  When on the following day Audrey has to explain the recurring events yet again, she cuts him off when he is about to repeat the line and finishes it for him.

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

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